Suddenly, the mouth snapped shut. The sea died to absolute calm. Water washed over Charybdis.
Then, just as quickly as it had closed, the mouth exploded open, spitting out a wall of water, ejecting everything inedible, including our cannonballs, one of which slammed into the side of the CSS Birmingham with a ding like the bell on a carnival game.
We were thrown backward on a wave that must’ve been forty feet high. I used all of my willpower to keep the ship from capsizing, but we were still spinning out of control, hurtling toward the cliffs on the opposite side of the strait.
Another smoldering sailor burst out of the hold. He stumbled into Clarisse, almost knocking them both overboard. “The engine is about to blow!”
“Where’s Tyson?” I demanded.
“Still down there,” the sailor said. “Holding it together somehow, though I don’t know for how much longer.”
The captain said, “We have to abandon ship.”
“No!” Clarisse yelled.
“We have no choice, m’lady. The hull is already cracking apart! She can’t—”
He never finished his sentence. Quick as lightning, something brown and green shot from the sky, snatched up the captain, and lifted him away. All that was left were his leather boots.
“Scylla!” a sailor yelled, as another column of reptilian flesh shot from the cliffs and snapped him up. It happened so fast it was like watching a laser beam rather than a monster. I couldn’t even make out the thing’s face, just a flash of teeth and scales.
I uncapped Riptide and tried to swipe at the monster as it carried off another deckhand, but I was way too slow.
“Everyone get below!” I yelled.
“We can’t!” Clarisse drew her own sword. “Below deck is in flames.”
“Lifeboats!” Annabeth said. “Quick!”
“They’ll never get clear of the cliffs,” Clarisse said. “We’ll all be eaten.”
“We have to try. Percy, the thermos.”
“I can’t leave Tyson!”
“We have to get the boats ready!”
Clarisse took Annabeth’s command. She and a few of her undead sailors uncovered one of the two emergency rowboats while Scylla’s heads rained from the sky like a meteor shower with teeth, picking off Confederate sailors one after another.
“Get the other boat.” I threw Annabeth the thermos. “I’ll get Tyson.”
“You can’t!” she said. “The heat will kill you!”
I didn’t listen. I ran for the boiler room hatch, when suddenly my feet weren’t touching the deck anymore. I was flying straight up, the wind whistling in my ears, the side of the cliff only inches from my face.
Scylla had somehow caught me by the knapsack, and was lifting me up toward her lair.
Without thinking, I swung my sword behind me and managed to jab the thing in her beady yellow eye. She grunted and dropped me.
The fall would’ve been bad enough, considering I was a hundred feet in the air. But as I fell, the CSS Birmingham exploded below me.
The engine room blew, sending chunks of ironclad flying in either direction like a fiery set of wings.
“Tyson!” I yelled.
The lifeboats had managed to get away from the ship, but not very far. Flaming wreckage was raining down. Clarisse and Annabeth would either be smashed or burned or pulled to the bottom by the force of the sinking hull, and that was thinking optimistically, assuming they got away from Scylla.
Then I heard a different kind of explosion—the sound of Hermes’s magic thermos being opened a little too far. White sheets of wind blasted in every direction, scattering the lifeboats, lifting me out of my free fall and propelling me across the ocean.
I couldn’t see anything. I spun in the air, got clonked on the head by something hard, and hit the water with a crash that would’ve broken every bone in my body if I hadn’t been the son of the Sea God.
The last thing I remembered was sinking in a burning sea, knowing that Tyson was gone forever, and wishing I were able to drown.
Chapter Twelve: We Check In To C.C.’S Spa & Resort
I woke up in a rowboat with a makeshift sail stitched of gray uniform fabric. Annabeth sat next to me, tacking into the wind.
I tried to sit up and immediately felt woozy.
“Rest,” she said. “You’re going to need it.”
“Tyson … ?”
She shook her head. “Percy, I’m really sorry.”
We were silent while the waves tossed us up and down.
“He may have survived,” she said halfheartedly. “I mean, fire can’t kill him.”
I nodded, but I had no reason to feel hopeful. I’d seen that explosion rip through solid iron. If Tyson had been down in the boiler room, there was no way he could’ve lived.
He’d given his life for us, and all I could think about were the times I’d felt embarrassed by him and had denied that the two of us were related.
Waves lapped at the boat. Annabeth showed me some things she’d salvaged from the wreckage—Hermes’s thermos (now empty), a Ziploc bag full of ambrosia, a couple of sailors’ shirts, and a bottle of Dr Pepper. She’d fished me out of the water and found my knapsack, bitten in half by Scylla’s teeth. Most of my stuff had floated away, but I still had Hermes’s bottle of multivitamins, and of course I had Riptide. The ballpoint pen always appeared back in my pocket no matter where I lost it.
We sailed for hours. Now that we were in the Sea of Monsters, the water glittered a more brilliant green, like Hydra acid. The wind smelled fresh and salty, but it carried a strange metallic scent, too—as if a thunderstorm were coming. Or something even more dangerous. I knew what direction we needed to go. I knew we were exactly one hundred thirteen nautical miles west by northwest of our destination. But that didn’t make me feel any less lost.
No matter which way we turned, the sun seemed to shine straight into my eyes. We took turns sipping from the Dr Pepper, shading ourselves with the sail as best we could. And we talked about my latest dream of Grover.
By Annabeth’s estimate, we had less than twenty-four hours to find Grover, assuming my dream was accurate, and assuming the Cyclops Polyphemus didn’t change his mind and try to marry Grover earlier.
“Yeah,” I said bitterly. “You can never trust a Cyclops.”
Annabeth stared across the water. “I’m sorry, Percy. I was wrong about Tyson, okay? I wish I could tell him that.”
I tried to stay mad at her, but it wasn’t easy. We’d been through a lot together. She’d saved my life plenty of times. It was stupid of me to resent her.
I looked down at our measly possessions—the empty wind thermos, the bottle of multivitamins. I thought about Luke’s look of rage when I’d tried to talk to him about his dad.
“Annabeth, what’s Chiron’s prophecy?”
She pursed her lips. “Percy, I shouldn’t—”
“I know Chiron promised the gods he wouldn’t tell me. But you didn’t promise, did you?”
“Knowledge isn’t always good for you.”
“Your mom is the wisdom goddess!”
“I know! But every time heroes learn the future, they try to change it, and it never works.”
“The gods are worried about something I’ll do when I get older,” I guessed. “Something when I turn sixteen.”
Annabeth twisted her Yankees cap in her hands. “Percy, I don’t know the full prophecy, but it warns about a half-blood child of the Big Three—the next one who lives to the age of sixteen. That’s the real reason Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades swore a pact after World War II not to have any more kids. The next child of the Big Three who reaches sixteen will be a dangerous weapon.”
“Because that hero will decide the fate of Olympus. He or she will make a decision that either saves the Age of the Gods, or destroys it.”
I let that sink in. I don’t get seasick, but suddenly I felt ill. “That’s why Kronos didn’t kill me last summer.”
She nodded. “You could be very useful to him. If he can get you on his side, the gods will be in serious trouble.”
“But if it’s me in the prophecy—”
“We’ll only know that if you survive three more years. That can be a long time for a half-blood. When Chiron first learned about Thalia, he assumed she was the one in the prophecy. That’s why he was so desperate to get her safely to camp. Then she went down fighting and got turned into a pine tree and none of us knew what to think. Until you came along.”
On our port side, a spiky green dorsal fin about fifteen feet long curled out of the water and disappeared.
“This kid in the prophecy … he or she couldn’t be like, a Cyclops?” I asked. “The Big Three have lots of monster children.”
Annabeth shook her head. “The Oracle said ‘half-blood.’ That always means half-human, half-god. There’s really nobody alive who it could be, except you.”
“Then why do the gods even let me live? It would be safer to kill me.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“Percy, I don’t know. I guess some of the gods would like to kill you, but they’re probably afraid of offending Poseidon. Other gods … maybe they’re still watching you, trying to decide what kind of hero you’re going be. You could be a weapon for their survival, after all. The real question is … what will you do in three years? What decision will you make?”
“Did the prophecy give any hints?”
Maybe she would’ve told me more, but just then a seagull swooped down out of nowhere and landed on our makeshift mast. Annabeth looked startled as the bird dropped a small cluster of leaves into her lap.
“Land,” she said. “There’s land nearby!”
I sat up. Sure enough, there was a line of blue and brown in the distance. Another minute and I could make out an island with a small mountain in the center, a dazzling white collection of buildings, a beach dotted with palm trees, and a harbor filled with a strange assortment of boats.
The current was pulling our rowboat toward what looked like a tropical paradise.
“Welcome!” said the lady with the clipboard.
She looked like a flight attendant—blue business suit, perfect makeup, hair pulled back in a ponytail. She shook our hands as we stepped onto the dock. With the dazzling smile she gave us, you would’ve thought we’d just gotten off the Princess Andromeda rather than a banged-up rowboat.
Then again, our rowboat wasn’t the weirdest ship in port. Along with a bunch of pleasure yachts, there was a U.S. Navy submarine, several dugout canoes, and an old-fashioned three-masted sailing ship. There was a helipad with a “Channel Five Fort Lauderdale” helicopter on it, and a short runway with a Learjet and a propeller plane that looked like a World War II fighter. Maybe they were replicas for tourists to look at or something.
“Is this your first time with us?” the clipboard lady inquired.